What did Measure 1 supporters expect when they developed the ballot measure and left the final details to the Legislature? The measure, which voters approved by nearly 54 percent in November, creates an ethics commission and seeks to establish rules on campaign spending, lobbying and gifts. It inserts new anti-corruption language in the state constitution.
The measure gives the Legislature three years to implement it. Two bills have been introduced to accomplish this, with House Bill 1521 sponsored by Republican leadership. North Dakotans for Public Integrity, the driving force behind Measure 1, has condemned HB1521 as an attempt to override goals of the measure.
In the past the Legislature has refused to create an ethics commission. Some legislators have argued there is no need for a commission since there isn’t a problem with them being unduly influenced by lobbyists. North Dakotans for Public Integrity in a press release said HB1521 restricts transparency, doesn’t provide enough funds for the commission, and imposes “almost meaningless penalties.”
Both chambers have formed bipartisan committees to develop the implementation legislation. Public Integrity objects to Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, chairing the House’s ethics committee. He’s been a vocal critic of Measure 1.
Rep. Chet Pollert and Sen. Rich Wardner, the House and Senate Republican majority leaders, outlined the goals of HB1521 in an opinion article in the Sunday Tribune. They believe there are “ambiguous phrases and redundant provisions in Measure 1 that require legislative clarification.” Pollert told the Forum News Service he wasn’t surprised by Measure 1 supporters’ opposition to the bill.
North Dakotans for Public Integrity said HB1521 can’t be fixed by amendment and should be rejected. Public Integrity favors a bill introduced by Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, which they helped develop.
Measure 1 was contentious from the beginning, drawing opposition from establishment groups and the American Civil Liberties Union. Supporters should have been more precise in the language used in the measure. They should have learned from how the Legislature took the medical marijuana measure and crafted it into law. It was unlikely Measure 1 would receive a warm welcome in the Legislature.
North Dakotans for Public Integrity doesn’t have much choice but to work with the ethics committees and win concessions. At the same time they can lend support to Mathern’s bill that probably faces an uphill fight. They shouldn’t be surprised by the lukewarm reception they have received.
The Tribune Editorial Board has supported the initiative process and opposed attempts to weaken it. However, we believe there are too many instances where measures haven’t been well thought out and written. Measure 1 opponents feared it could limit ordinary citizens’ ability to meet with legislators and testify before committees. While supporters denied this, it was the impression that lingered with many.
The battle over implementing Measure 1 could be lengthy and we encourage all sides to be open-minded and try to reach a compromise. It makes sense to have reasonable rules in place so the public can be assured our elected officials and lobbyists are behaving in an appropriate manner. We are fooling ourselves if we say there never have been any problems.
While we have been blessed with many good leaders it doesn’t hurt to have safeguards in place. Measure 1 can be a mechanism for even better government.